Update on discussions with CHA

from the ACT Office, September 14, 2012

Working Groups: Tenant council recognition policy

On July 12 six residents met with CHA’s tenant liaison Sothea Chiemruom to discuss the new Tenant Council (“Resident Council”) Recognition Policy. The main change residents sought was to reduce the number of officers required for recognition of councils in smaller developments.  Greg Russ, CHA Executive Director has reportedly agreed that in public housing developments under 100 households, councils may choose to elect three officers instead of the five required by HUD regs.  CHA will also revise the travel policy to allow tenant council officers to designate residents of their developments to attend conferences.

Outside water usage in public housing

On July 26 seven residents participated in an outside water usage working group with Director of Operations Gloria Leipzig. We learned that she had not issued any directive to managers regarding outdoor water use. That’s why some site managers are still allowing it. However managers are being encouraged to conserve water. CHA tracks trends in water consumption at each development. But there are no figures on how much water goes to lawn sprinklers or to fill kiddie pools, etc. Residents suggested ways of rationing water without banning outside use.  Ideas included: collecting rainwater in barrels; locking faucets to be unlocked only during certain hours; installation of low-pressure spigots to prevent the use of long hoses to wash cars. It seemed like a productive meeting but with the summer drawing to a close, there have been no concrete results so far.

Community room policy

Last year CHA promulgated a new policy on public housing tenants’ use of community rooms.  The policy had never been presented to residents for discussion.  Residents challenged it at the March 6 Quarterly.  They objected particularly to raising the refundable deposit to $70 and imposing a nonrefundable $30 fee.  CHA staff agreed to meet with resident leaders on March 27 to discuss the policy.  At that meeting CHA seemed to meet some objections but refused to withdraw the $30 fee. However, we learned in May that CHA had decided to rescind the fee after all; the refundable deposit would be returned to the old $50 level.  At the June 5 Quarterly, CHA Operations director Gloria Leipzig explained that in reviewing the policy, CHA’s attorney discovered that Federal IRS rules forbid such fees in tax credit buildings.  CHA used low income housing tax credits to help finance renovations at LBJ, Lincoln Way, and Jackson Gardens (we can expect more tax credit financing in the near future).  CHA decided they better not charge the fees in the other developments either.  However, the final policy has still not been released.  ACT has been told that CHA’s attorney is still reviewing it!  So far we have not heard about CHA plans to thank the residents who saved CHA from an embarrassing and possibly very costly tax code violation.

Focus groups and the PT Lab

Recently CHA initiated something called the Policy and Technology Lab (PT Lab). CHA recruits graduate students from area universities to work with staff and residents to study and evaluate CHA’s programs and performance. Members of ACT and the tenant councils have already helped the students on several research projects. 

In August the CHA Banking Advisory Group met to draft a privacy statement that will spell out the protocols for using residents’ personal data in PT Lab research. CHA has shared the draft with ACT and the tenant councils and will invite their input. An informational memo on privacy policy will be presented to the CHA Board of Commissioners in October.

On July 5, eight residents met with CHA staff and a PT Lab student intern for an education focus group at the ACT Office. The purpose was to vet a questionnaire for outreach to residents who might be interested in further formal education, either for themselves or for their children. CHA is considering a new program that would make it possible for residents to pursue a community college degree or complete other vocational training.